Konigsburg, Rowling, and pen names

From the NYT on April 23rd0, “E. L. Konigsburg, Author, Is Dead at 83” (by Paul Vitello):

E. L. Konigsburg, a children’s author and illustrator who twice received the nation’s highest award in children’s literature [the Newbery Medal] — she won it in 1968 for her second book, edging out the runner-up, which was her own first book — died on Friday [April 19th] in Falls Church, Va.

Two things: a note on the pleasures of her most famous book, and a note on her pen name.

More from Vitello’s obit:

She received the 1968 medal for “From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler,” a story about a sister and brother [Claudia ad Jamie] from the suburbs who run away from home and surreptitiously camp out at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan. She wrote that book in 1967, the same year she finished and sold her first book, “Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth,” about a new child in the neighborhood and her friendship with a girl who claims to be a witch, the 1968 Newbery runner-up.

Two covers for the Frankweiler book (a dark one and a bright one):

The book is both gripping and delightful, and Konigsburg gently folds in some information about art and the Met. It’s a children’s classic, much beloved.

Konigsburg — born Elaine Lobl, and called Elaine — became Elaine Lobl Konigsburg when she married David Konigsburg, and she published under the name E. L. Konigsburg. In interviews she said that it shouldn’t matter whether she was a man or a woman, so she used initials rather than her first name; she added that she also wanted to emulate E. B. White (Elwyn Brooks White, who published under his initials but was generally known by his nickname, Andy).

(On pseudonyms and pen names, see this posting.)

More recently, we have the case of the writer who publishes under the name J. K. Rowling. From Wikipedia:

Joanne “Jo” Rowling … (born 31 July 1965), pen name J. K. Rowling, is a British novelist, best known as the author of the Harry Potter fantasy series.

… Although she writes under the pen name “J. K. Rowling”, pronounced like rolling, her name when her first Harry Potter book was published was simply “Joanne Rowling”. Anticipating that the target audience of young boys might not want to read a book written by a woman, her publishers demanded that she use two initials, rather than her full name. As she had no middle name, she chose K as the second initial of her pen name, from her paternal grandmother Kathleen Ada Bulgen Rowling. She calls herself “Jo” and has said, “No one ever called me ‘Joanne’ when I was young, unless they were angry.” Following her marriage [to Neil Michael Murray], she has sometimes used the name Joanne Murray when conducting personal business. During the Leveson Inquiry she gave evidence under the name of Joanne Kathleen Rowling. In a 2012 interview, Rowling noted that she no longer cared that people pronounced her name incorrectly.

From the Wikipedia entry on pen names, after a note that some female writers have chosen male pen names (Mary Ann Evans / George Eliot):

More recently, women who write in genres normally written by men sometimes choose to use initials, such as D. C. Fontana, J. K. Rowling, J.D. Robb, K. A. Applegate, and S. E. Hinton. Alternatively, they may use a unisex pen name, such as Robin Hobb [and Curtis Sittenfield].


2 Responses to “Konigsburg, Rowling, and pen names”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    From Robert Coren on Google+:

    As the example of E. B. White illustrates, there also are/have been male authors who published using their initials: off the top my head come T. S. Eliot and J. R. R. Tolkien. In the case of the latter, when The Lord of the Rings was first published, the only way to find out what the author’s initials stood for was to decipher the Elvish runes on the title page.

    My response:

    Where did I say that only women adopted this naming strategy? Plenty of men have adopted it — just off the top of my head, to add to your examples, C. S. Lewis, B. F. Skinner, E. L. Doctorow — but not, so far as we know, to conceal their sex or to treat their sex as irrelevant. (Some discussion in the NYT piece I cited in my earlier posting.)

  2. Remarkable names | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] names are also chosen for real people. As pseudonyms or pen names, for example. Or stage names (Benjamin “Benny” Kubelsky becomes Jack Benny, etc.). Or, […]

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